Topeka Hikers and farmers squared off on Monday before a House committee over the sometimes contentious rails-to-trails issue.
Marty Nordhus, a farmer from Marshall County, said a decision by the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals could force him to pay property taxes on abandoned railway right-of-way that went through his property but had become a public trail.
Nordhus said he would then would have to sue the trail organization, which has been deeded the land, in order to get compensated for his tax bill.
"This committee is simply being asked to right an injustice," he told the House Transportation Committee.
Backing up Nordhus in support of House Bill 2735 were numerous agricultural organizations. The bill would require that land that has been "rail-banked" would be appraised and the taxes assessed on the recreational trail organization that took over the corridor.
Leslie Kaufman, with the Kansas Cooperative Council and Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association, said it wasn't fair to tax farmers for the rail trails.
"To saddle us with the tax burden for a corridor that you have no control over or receive economic benefit from really adds insult upon injury," Kaufman said.
But rail-trail supporters said the agriculture groups were getting fired up over nothing. No one is paying taxes on rail trails, they said.
They agreed that landowners shouldn't have to pay taxes on the trails, and they argued the case involving Nordhus hadn't been finalized yet.
"We don't want the adjacent landowner to pay taxes," said Scott Allen, vice president of the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy. "We don't want to pay taxes, and that is what the status quo is right now."
Currently, he said, counties exempt the recreational trail right-of-way from property taxes or value the land at 0.The group provided an amendment to the bill that would ensure that would continue.
Doug Walker, president of the Kanza Rail-Trail Conservancy, said non-profit trail organizations shouldn't have to pay taxes on the trails because they were providing free recreational facilities for the public. KanBikeWalk also testified in favor the amendment provided by Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy.
The committee took no action on the bill.